Hitchens on Qur’an burning

April 7, 2011 • 9:41 am

Thank the Ceiling Cat above that Hitchens is back with his regular Slate column.  This week’s topic is Qur’an burning.  Hitch is not in his best form here—the piece almost looks phoned in—but the man’s been ill. Let’s be thankful he’s writing at all.

How dispiriting to see, once again, the footage of theocratic rage in Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. The same old dreary formula: self-righteous frenzy married to a neurotic need to take offense; the easy resort to indiscriminate violence and cruelty; the promulgation of makeshift fatwas by mullahs on the make; those writhing mustaches framing crude slogans of piety and hatred, and yelling for death as if on first-name terms with the Almighty. The spilling of blood and the spoliation of property—all for nothing, and ostensibly “provoked” by the corny, brainless antics of a devout American nonentity, notice of whose mere existence is beneath the dignity of any thinking person.

Hitchens excoriates the incompetent and corrupt Hamid Karzai for inciting mob violence, and nearly calls for his ouster:

Already under constant pressure to make consistent comments about Syria and Libya, the Obama administration might want to express itself more directly about a man for whose fast-decomposing regime we are shedding our best blood.

We’re not going to “win” in Afghanistan, if “winning” means ousting the Taliban or other Muslim insurgents. And there’s no sign that we can help bring about an Afghan government who will. It’s time for us to take our lumps and leave.

44 thoughts on “Hitchens on Qur’an burning

  1. It is interesting to me that even defenders of free speech and civil liberties such as Hitchens find it necessary to add some sort of caveat about how this preacher is “boorish” or a “non-entity”.

    Does it matter at all who burned a Koran? If someone burns a US flag in protest of an amendment against flag burning do we need to add some aside about how flag-burning is un-American and this person is a jerk?

    This strike me as fundamentalist creep.

    1. I don’t think Hitchens found it necessary to insert those qualifiers. Not everything that’s written in an article needs be absolutely necessary. It is, indeed, rather common in literary compositions to add a number of adjectives that will help the reader to form a more complete idea of the author’s feelings about the subject in question. In other words, the fact that Pastor Jones is portrayed as a boorish nobody – while being irrelevant to the moral case – colors our perception of Hitchen’s assumed posture with respect to this rather droll evangelical cleric.

      1. It’s an opinion piece, of course, so anything goes, and nothing is absolutely necessary.

        “Pastor Jones is portrayed as a boorish nobody – while being irrelevant to the moral case – colors our perception of Hitchen’s assumed posture with respect to this rather droll evangelical cleric.”

        I’ve no idea what this means.

        1. All this means in simpler terms is that you’re right about the fact that it doesn’t matter whether Pastor Jones was a paltry moron or not. But you’re wrong to deem mistaken Hitchen’s choice to introduce these descriptors.

    2. Hitch’s point is that the pastor is an unimportant and completely unrepresentative figure in American politics or culture. This is important because the terrorist Muslim’s case would be marginally stronger if, say, Obama himself had burned the Koran to make a point. Then they could at least feel that the President of the US was insulting them, and that he was representing our nation as a whole or at least a good portion of it. But no, the pastor who burned the Koran is a relative nobody, and so it is even more ludicrous that they should care what this man thinks or does.

      1. No, I don’t think that was his point at all. Why would it make a difference who burned a collection of paper? President or pastor?

        1. I think you are incorrect. I think that is exactly what Hitch was trying to convey. Of course, Hitch is the only person who can clarify the issue for us.

        2. Did you just ignore everything Tim Martin said.

          It would make a difference simply because a president’s actions are generally perceived as representative of an entire State. I would be very much obliged to see Obama burn ANY ‘holy’ book. But that’s no the point.

        3. That was explained in my initial comment. To you hope to have a discussion by simply repeating the same question?

        4. It matters very much who burns a book. If it is an attention seeker like Jones the event barely deserves a yawn. If it were done by the president it would be state speech, more or less on par with the Nazi book burnings.

        5. I understood Hitchens’ intent to be exactly what Tim explained. Possibly with the added flavor of condemning interest in banal sensationalism in general – comparing those agog over Jones’ stunt to, say, pretty 20-somethings earnestly concerned about what Chihuahua accessories are currently de rigeur. In other words: who gives a shit?

          I also particularly liked this bit of “wordsmithery”: … writhing mustaches framing crude slogans of piety and hatred… It gets a knock in at their silly facial hair fetish/superstition and their collossal capacity for cognitive dissonance, making a pretense of piety with the very same action that gives them away as downright vile.

    3. I think in the case where the person doing the deed is a boorish lout, people who write about him might be compelled to point this out, lest they be accused of being buddies with a boorish lout.

    1. Re: one of A.C. Grayling’s favorite quotes, with which apparently he has prefaced not a few talks: “As a member of the Hungarian parliament(?) once said, ‘Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.'”

      1. thank you for this!

        maybe hitchens didn’t need to add such descriptors but, it hardly detracts his argument/point. to take such umbrage with that particular part of the article is definitely boorish.

        1. South Bend (St. Joseph County) is in the Eastern time zone and does observe DST, so you’d use EDT as the time.

  2. Don’t get me started on Afghanistan.

    Can anybody name an empire that didn’t go there to die?

    Obama campaigned on bringing the war there to a swift close. Over two years into his administration, he’s still sending more and more and more troops there, pouring more and more and more napalm on the flames we’ve fanned into a firestorm.

    I would have supported a police action, backed by Marines, to arrest Osama bin Laden. But an actual invasion? Followed by a decade of occupation?

    What on Earth were they thinking?


    1. Great comments. The war in Afghanistan could be thought of as “Might versus Stupidity”. So far, stupidity is winning, and they’re even covering the point spread.

    2. They were not thinking of a decade, that’s for sure. The Taliban were/are hideous barbarians I think, but no doubt were made worse by a catalogue of idiotic policy decisions from various sides in the period after the Russian invasion. We in ‘The West’ should have supported the secular government then perhaps? Armies seek to justify their existence & so it seems do many US politicians who have their eyes on arms contractors in their districts. However I still would say that retreat would be a betrayal of the moderate & secular minority (is there one?), though it will happen sooner or later. What would happen under a president Palin (or equivalent), assuming she knew which way up the map is?

      1. I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people are ‘moderate’ though likely they do not have a concept of secularism. The thugs perpetuating all the misery are a minority. Think of it this way: if your local police decided to run protection rackets, what can you do? Hell, you don’t even have to pretend – that was 1960’s New York City. And yet, what fraction of the population make up the police?

    3. What on Earth were they thinking?

      Revenge. Catharsis. Therapy.

      And when the Taliban government fell so quickly, too quickly, the Bush Administration looked around for a better punching bag, and took the US into Iraq.

      1. And scaring the crap out of any other country considering pissing the US off, that may have been the main one I think. If I were a muslim dictator thinking of harbouring Al Qaida, I’d be far less keen now than a decade ago.

    4. “Can anybody name an empire that didn’t go there to die?”

      Or possibly more accurately, where the patrician elites did not send the plebian/proletarian/populist class to die in the interests of the former.

      Was it ever possible to insert Marines, Special Forces, Navy Seals into Afghanistan and/or Pakistan to find and capture Osama bin Laden, without spending all the blood and treasure? If not, then has the U.S. (secretly) maintained intense operations to find him, or has the Obama administration given up? Didn’t Dubya say words to the effect that he was not worth further pursuing? The public was lead to believe, initially, that capturing him was the primary purpose of any invasion? Or am I misremembering?

      1. Was it ever possible to insert Marines, Special Forces, Navy Seals into Afghanistan and/or Pakistan to find and capture Osama bin Laden, without spending all the blood and treasure?

        He was supported by the Afghan government (which meant, at the time, the Pakistani security forces), so I’d say the answer to your question is “no”.

      1. Indeed. Followed closely by not going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. These two guidelines have served me in good stead.


    5. Hear, hear! Hear, hear, hear, hear, hear!!

      Man, did I feel like the lone ranger when it was treason to dispute Dubya’s righteous crusade to avenge 9/11 by declaring war on Afghanistan. Then Obama of all people keeps it rolling!

      And talk about flip flops…remember when we were FOR the Taliban?

      All these years, all the dead, all the money and corruption, and still most of the US pays next to no attention to this stupid, stupid war.

      And definitely, a police action was the way to go; 9/11 was a criminal act, not a war declaration.

      And meanwhile their heroin economy has burgeoned. What an all around success story. What a proud badge of honor for the good ol’ YewEss.

      1. Yep – and all because the ‘Religious Right’ rabidly opposes the regulation of ‘recreational drugs’. I disagree about walking out though; Dubbyah went riding in screaming ‘Yee-hah!’ and has totally screwed things – and yet there is still great potential for good, but not if we simply pack up and go.

      1. I don’t know why it was that Terry Jones was highlighted as the Koran burner. The Westboro baptists burned one a few months back and were ignored by all. What’s so special about Terry Jones’ Koran that makes it so so different from the Westboro Koran?

  3. I don’t believe simply leaving Afghanistan would do any good whatsoever. The same goes for Iraq; I’d rather maintain some presence and influence for another 20-40 years. We need to spend money on infrastructure projects, job creation projects, and secular schooling without any strings attached. Unfortunately the people ultimately running the show are not particularly intelligent and bleat this mantra about “goal oriented outcomes” rather than making decisions which simply benefit society. We pretend to give money for infrastructure but on the condition that only certain companies can bid, etc. We are essentially promoting the very corruption we claim to abhor. Running is the simple-minded and cowardly way out; the threats will not diminish simply because we pretend the job is done. Karzai is as bad as any other Afghan warlord in the past 40 years and we’re simply repeating our nasty mistake of propping up a vile puppet, and a puppet who in my opinion would be happy to lash out against us for the sake of making himself popular with the enemy.

  4. Interesting that Facebook has a warning on this posting of Coyne’s – apparently flagged as offensive. Hitchen’s original was ok. I posted Coyne’s anyway. I see nothing offensive here. Merely free discussion. Have at’er.

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